This post provides details about when the Tower Bridge lifts and how to make sure you can catch a glimpse at the rare sighting.
We include tips on the best places to see the event.
There is no set schedule for the Tower Bridge to open, so it’s not an activity or event that can be easily planned out in a short amount of time.
The bridge opens for all types of vessels, but since this stretch of the Thames is mostly used by tourist boats, you can expect to see a lot of those during the summer.
That said, there are certain factors that can increase your likelihood of being able to catch this event.
Now, while we can guarantee this to always happen, one of our guides, Sinead, filmed a Tower Bridge lift for you.
Tower Bridge openings typically happen almost precisely when they are scheduled, so it will be important to be on time and prepared for the event.
You can expect the scheduled vessel to arrive and then wait for their booked time slot, so if you see a boat approaching the bridge, you might want to hurry up!
The Time of Year is Important
During the winter, days and even weeks can pass between one bridge opening and the next.
However, if you visit during the summer, it might lift half a dozen times or more in just one day, so you might even catch a bridge opening at sunset!
The official website of the Tower Bridge provides bridge lift times and other details, including information about what types of vessels will be passing the bridge.
As local tour guides, we always know when the bridge is going to open, and when we have our own visitors, we send them here.
And, we used our own experiences to help craft this guide to witnessing Tower Bridge open.
We also gleaned tips from some of the roughly 140k members of our popular London Travel Tips Facebook group.
A link to our group can be found at the end of the post, so come and join the conversation.
Our City of London walking tour ends near Tower Bridge, and every so often, the time god blesses us with a lift.
- Best Places for Photographs and Selfies
- What to Expect
- Walking Across Tower Bridge
- London Bridge vs Tower Bridge
Fact: Tower Bridge is part of City Bridge Foundation, whose sole trustee is the City of London Corporation.
This organization is responsible for the upkeep of five bridges in Central London.
These are Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Southwark Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge and Millennium Bridge.
Will Tower Bridge lift on Christmas or New Year?
The 2024 New Year's Eve is going to be exciting as London's top attraction is going to lift 2 times for the vessel Paddle Steamer Dixie Queen.
Both the lifts will be an hour apart with the first one taking place on December 31st at 23:30 pm and the second one on January 1st at 12:30 am.
During Christmas or New Year, you can expect festive decorations and possibly a light display or fireworks to mark the celebrations.
Luckily, there are plenty of great places to see the opening roadways of this famous bridge.
Here are a few of our recommendations:
Northern Bank | Western Side
On the northern river banks of the river Thames, you’ll find there’s a great vantage point on the western side of Tower Bridge.
This location is popular due to its proximity to both the bridge and the Tower of London.
Northern Bank | Eastern Side
If you’re looking for a quieter and less crowded view, head to the eastern side of the Bridge in front of the Tower Hotel.
This spot isn’t as close to the Tower of London, so it’s not as popular for taking pictures, but it’s still a great angle to view the Tower Bridge opening.
A great spot is the Timepiece Sundial, which is located at the entrance to St. Katherine's Docks.
Southern Bank | City Hall
Located on the opposite side of the Thames from the Tower of London, City Hall is also a great place where you can stop and enjoy excellent views of the Tower Bridge opening.
Southern Bank | View From the Shard
Although it might not be the best view, it’s worth noting that on any clear day, you’ll probably be able to see the opening Tower Bridge from the Shard.
If you’re interested in a view from above, this is an excellent idea you might want to consider.
Southern Bank | Butler’s Wharf
This location is on the eastern side of Tower Bridge.
It’s home to several restaurants and cafes that have outdoor seating where you can sit and enjoy a nice view of the landmark while sipping on a cup of tea or coffee.
Inside the Tower Bridge Experience
One of the most interesting things about the Tower Bridge Experience is the glass-bottom floor which goes across the entire span of the bridge.
You can either walk up the stairs or take a lift to reach the top. From here, you can walk across the bridge using the east and west walkways.
If you visit during a time when the bridge is lifting, you might have a chance of seeing the bridge lift from above!
Fact: The original mechanism for lifting the bascules used steam power before transitioning to electricity in 1976.
How Long Does it Take to Open?
The whole process of the bridge lifting takes about 3-5 minutes, so it’ll be over in no time.
That’s why it’s important to consider arriving at least a short while before the event is scheduled.
Fact: Tower Bridge's bascules weigh over 1,000 tons each and can be raised in about 5 minutes.
What if You Miss It?
If you miss the bridge opening in summer, chances are there will be another one happening in a few hours.
So, you can usually just grab a bite to eat or enjoy some sightseeing while you’re waiting for the next opportunity.
However, if you arrive too late during the winter, you might just have to head back home and wait for a few days (or even a week!) until the next bridge lift is scheduled.
How does Tower Bridge go up and down?
Tower Bridge in London is a bascule bridge that goes up and down through a bascule mechanism operated by a hydraulic system.
When a ship needs to pass, the bascules are raised using electric motors.
The bridge operator controls the process from a control room in the South Tower.
Warning signals are activated, and the bascules are gradually lowered once the ship has passed.
Fact: The bascule bridge at Tower Bridge in London is over 128 years old, having been completed in 1894.
What time do the lights come on at Tower Bridge?
The lights typically come on at dusk, which is around sunset.
However, the exact timing can vary depending on the season and daylight hours.
Fact: The Tower Bridge is adorned with over 40,000 LED lights, making it a stunning display of color and illumination during the night.
Does Tower Bridge light up every night?
Yes, it is illuminated every night.
It is a prominent landmark and a popular tourist attraction, so the bridge is typically lit up in the evening and throughout the night.
How tall is the tower of Tower Bridge?
The Tower Bridge in London has two towers, the North Tower and the South Tower. The towers have a height of approximately 65 meters (213 feet).
How do ship's agents, owners, or Masters book the bridge lift?
As per the information available on the Bridge's official website, if the vessel has a mast or superstructure of 30ft (9m) or more and would like to enter or leave the Upper Pool of London, a Bridge Lift for the vessel can be booked here.
Fact: Do you know that the cost of vessel owners to lift the bridge is Zero? The design of Tower Bridge ensured that it wouldn't impede incoming river traffic to the Pool of London, which in the Victorian era was the busiest port in the world.
What are the London Bridge Opening Times?
Believe it or not, never!
A lot of people make this mistake, but the London Bridge actually does not lift or open the way that Tower Bridge does.
Many visitors will confuse the two bridges because they are both famous for different reasons.
That said, only one of these structures is actually designed to lift, and it is the Tower Bridge.
For more details about the differences between these landmarks, please read our post covering the London Bridge vs Tower Bridge.
Fact: During World War II, the bascules were raised to deter enemy aircraft and prevent them from flying up the River Thames.
Plan Your Visit
We recommend planning it out but don’t spend too much time agonizing over how and when to see the Tower Bridge opening.
Instead, check to see when the next bridge opening is scheduled for and arrive about 15 minutes ahead of time to make sure you’ve got a good vantage point.
Even if you’re not planning to come to see the Tower Bridge opening, you might still want to keep an eye open for any boats if you’re in the area, because chances are that you might be able to catch the event just in passing.
Consider a Nighttime Visit
Here’s a tip: The Tower Bridge is usually very well-lit after dark, and it’s an entirely different experience to see this landmark at night versus during the day.
Some Tower Bridge openings take place well after dark – some even past midnight!
If you’re interested in seeing a bridge opening and you’ve never seen it after dark, consider heading out for one of the later scheduled lifts to see what it looks like at night.
For more tips and suggestions, make sure to read our post covering how to plan a visit to Tower Bridge.
How to make the most of your Tower Bridge visit?
Follow these steps to move around the Tower Bridge like a pro.
- Start your visit by ascending the North Tower.
- Proceed along the East Walkway and West Walkway, traversing the well-known Glass Floors.
- Descend to ground level by going down the South Tower.
- Next, trace the Blue line honoring Tower Bridge workers.
- Conclude your visit by entering the Victorian Engine Rooms.